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Musing #67: Valley of the Boom

I will admit that I am a sucker for tech docudramas and find it cringe-worthy when it goes too far off the rails. It is one of the reasons that I could never appreciate Halt and Catch Fire to the extent that a tech aficionado ought to. On the other hand, Pirates of Silicon Valley was far more watchable despite its inaccuracies. Hence, when I came to know of ‘Valley of the Boom’, I had to give it a go. At the time of writing, only two of the six episodes have been made available on the NatGeo website and while it is not fair to review a series in parts, it is certainly worth musing over.

The series tells the story of three start-ups: Netscape, and PixelOn trying to make it big in the valley that keeps on giving. The focus is on the wild frontier of the 90s, when there were not enough ideas to throw cash at. While the tale of Netscape is well known, that of the latter two seems far more interesting because they weren’t as big. On the whole, one is inclined to spare more thought on the businesses they helped set up (Browser, Social Networking, Video Streaming) than the companies themselves.

The appearance of Barksdale, Kim Clark, Todd Krizelman, Stephan Paternot and their first-hand recounting of the adventures at Netscape and imparts credibility to the entire series. However, the comic relief provided by Steve Zahn as the eccentric “Michael Fenne” is a welcome break from the usual docudrama fare. The appearance of Bill “by no means a puppet” Gates as well as Karna as Karna and Andreessen make it pretty clear that nothing is meant to be taken seriously.

I have never really enjoyed a documentary or docudrama that chiefly focuses on recounting of the events through interviews alone. Hence, the approach here of switching between the real-life protagonists, re-enactments and historic footage is a welcome change. However, once the novelty wears off, the incoherent switching between the various modes of presentations and stories becomes tiring.

While it a fun fare, the frequent breaking of the fourth wall interspersed with over-the-top acting by Lamorne Morris as a pseudo-investment banker and rap sequences keep throwing things out of gear and make watching the series, for its story, a bit of a drag. In fact, my co-audience figures dropped by 50% over the course of the second episode, which is to say that this series may not be for everyone.

The series has piqued my interest in these companies and other 90s dot-com (con) stories. In fact, I think that one is better served by reading rather than spending hours watching the stories which it seems can’t be taken seriously because of their presentation. At the same time, it might just be the over-the-top entertainment that one needs on a weekend. Since there are 2 episodes already available, it is worth giving the series a try and seeing whether it floats your boat, especially after watching the second one. It is inevitable that things are only going to get weirder from hereon and I have just locked myself in to watching the remaining episodes, for better or for worse. However, there’s no FOMO here if you have better things to do in life.

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